A little black number

A little black number

Charis Whitcombe

This month we welcome Fiat’s first ever mini-MPV onto our fleet: the all-new Idea. Ours is the diesel version in Dynamic trim, a 70bhp 1.3-litre 16V Multi Jet promising excellent fuel consumption, at a claimed 55.4mpg.

Stylistically, the brand-new Fiat Idea is very appealing, offering clean lines and simplicity. “Harmonious and elegant,” said Fiat on the press launch, explaining how the fluid shape follows the natural lines of the airflow in a wind tunnel, slightly beefed up with nose-to-tail lines and subtle wheelarches. And the more you look at it, the better it gets.

Better still, however, is what you find when you climb onboard. Once inside the Idea, it feels like a mobile conservatory–spacious, airy and light. There is a very high area of glass for the size of vehicle. Try sitting in the rear seat with the front passenger seat flopped down; leaning back in the adjustable rear seat you can almost believe you’re in the cockpit of an aircraft. The windscreen slopes away into the distance and the exceptional height for a car of this size adds to the Idea’s sense of space. It is not a sensation you expect from such a relatively inexpensive car.

More and more buyers are seeking exactly this spacious feel. The compact MPV market is ballooning and Fiat, keen to have its slice of the pie, launched its Idea to the UK market back in February. Only two engines, however, are available to UK buyers–our 70bhp 1.3-litre diesel and the 95bhp 1.4-litre 16V Fire petrol engine. Because the petrol consumption is so encouraging, Fiat is expecting the proportion of petrol/diesel sales in the fleet sector to be split 50:50. But we don’t have the option of the European market’s 1.2-litre petrol, which would probably be seen as seriously underpowered by UK buyers, nor can we choose the gutsy 1.9-litre MultiJet, which is a shame. For buyers seeking a bit more performance, the larger diesel engine would be a very good thing indeed. But then who are the Idea’s target buyers?

At the launch Fiat said: “Simplicity is one of the strong parts of Idea”. It’s “easy” to drive, the manufacturer claimed, and said it’s “not for car specialists”. The Euro III-compliant Idea is targeted predominantly at the retail market–particularly women and young, active families–but it’s not for the driver with sporting pretensions.

In the fleet sector, buyers are likely to be user choosers, perhaps switching from the C-segment to enjoy a higher-spec and more flexible mini-MPV. It would be ideal (you just can’t escape the predictable puns with this car …) for round-town business driving: estate agents, maybe. Or, in the public sector–which has traditionally proved a very successful market for the Fiat Punto–it might well be the choice of such professionals as district nurses. Anyone, in fact, making frequent stops in fairly small territories is likely to appreciate the Idea’s virtues of being small, economical, easy-to-drive and well-priced (9995 [pounds sterling] to 12,495 [pounds sterling] OTR).

Here I must admit a hiccup with the first Idea to join our fleet. A gremlin caused problems with the brake lights, which would insist on staying on for the majority of a journey, causing huge annoyance to other road-users. And the doors locked and unlocked themselves sporadically as I drove along … nothing that Fiat couldn’t swiftly fix, but it meant that I swapped Ideas after the first couple of weeks. Hence I’ve so far done fewer miles than anticipated. Happily the replacement has behaved perfectly–more on this fresh little MPV next month.


OTR PRICE: 12,145 [pounds sterling] ENGINE: 1248cc turbo diesel

TRANSMISSION: Five-speed man

POWER: 70bhp @ 4000rpm

TORQUE: 180Nm @ 1750rpm

C[O.sub.2] RATING: 135g/km (18%)

2004/5 BIK: 2161 [pounds sterling]






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